Posts Tagged ‘mochas’

Just Another Day in LA

July 23, 2009

7/12/09: Today was a busy day, as I found several things to see and do.

First, off to find some arts and crafts fair that had been mentioned by some graphic artists at the ArtWalk. They had been sketchy as to the actual location, someplace called California Mart or something, that was at 9th and Olympic. The only problem with that was Olympic and 9th are parallel to one another. So what was the cross street? They didn’t know. I said I would find it, I’d just walk down one or the other.

And what a beautiful day it was, perfect for picture taking.

Penthouse View of Downtown LA

Penthouse View of Downtown LA

I found the California Market Center easily enough, and the event was on the 13th floor, the Penthouse. It was the Renegade Craft Fair, the first year it has been held in Los Angeles, as previously it had been held in Brooklyn, San Francisco and Chicago. The organizers are based out of Chicago, and now actually have a store devoted to the spirit of the fair. Surprisingly, many of the artists and participants were not from Los Angeles. Many were from the Pacific Northwest and New York City area. I wondered why it wasn’t being held in Seattle or Portland. Why LA? And they will also have a tent at All Points West Music Festival, at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ, the first weekend of August.

But for Sunday in LA, the turnout was quite good, considering I had seen absolutely no advertising for it, and had only just inadvertantly heard about it myself. There were a lot of Etsy craftspeople there, and not afraid to let us know about it! The entire point of it being different from other craft fairs is the whole DIY vibe, a mainstay of Etsy folk, I’ve noticed.

I managed to find a gift for a friend, a T-shirt with the phrase “Don’t you know who I am?” something my friend and I joke she should have on her business cards. Not that she is famous, that’s the point. Who doesn’t want to throw that line around and see what results they get? There was another shirt that said “You’d blog about it too if it had happened to you” for myself, but opted instead for a button that said the same thing. I didn’t want to call too much attention to myself with a T-shirt like that. That’s what makes it fun to blog, being not known for it, as the observer. There were buttons and posters and T-shirts and stuffed animals galore, and plates and mugs and coasters, oh my! The main point of it was there was so much creativity expressed. I could be an artist too, if only I could draw or sculpt or paint or something…. Something that I could tangibly make, and be able to sell to others.

Afterwards, as I was walking down the street to go get coffee,

Random Signage in Downtown

Random Signage in Downtown

I spotted an interesting sign that may have been decals affixed to a sign, or an actual sign added to other signs. Anyway, I took a picture. A man approached me as I did, and exclaimed he had been standing there all day (there was a filming going on, I think he was security), and hadn’t even noticed it. What had me notice it, just walking by? I couldn’t say, other than I have an eye for that sort of thing. That artistic eye. If only I could draw….

I got my mocha, and sat writing until they closed,  when they wanted the chair and table I was working at. (Again, Sunday+downtown+Mocha +after 5 pm is a wash.) I wandered off towards home, taking more photos, and gave my cat Hamlin his gift I had picked up at the Crafts show: a skull and bones fabric fortune cookie, stuffed with organic catnip.

Organic Catnip Fortune Cookie

Organic Catnip Fortune Cookie

He was a junkie in no time, and it was covered in cat drool enough to be damp to the touch already, plus his stray furs, when I took it away from him, afraid of the consequences of unbridled useage, as we were warned by the classic on my knowledge of addictive drugs, Reefer Madness. The fire escape door at the end of the hall was open, who knows, he might have gone plummeting to his death from too much!

And then it was time to get yet another outfit on, and head out to Spaceland to catch Loch Lomond. They had played at Sasquatch Music Fest and had been excellent, and here they were in LA to be viewed and enjoyed again.

Loch Lomond at Spaceland

Loch Lomond at Spaceland

The audience was tiny, I felt so bad for them, but they played excellently, and energetically, just as they had when I had seen them in Washington, with hundreds in attendance. The only consolation was this time I could see them very well, so up close and personal.

They’re one of those bands that the musicians are constantly trading positions and instruments, each able to play more than one thing. Keeps their sound lively and unpredictable. Okay, so the violinist only played violin, but she sang too. And the female vocalist did tambourines and beat on drums too. But the drummer would come out from his drum set and stand to the left of the violinist and play the clarinet. And the other percussionist also played the banjo, guitar and vibraphone.

The lead vocalist has a unique high-pitched singing voice, that makes the songs sound old and sad. Melancholy. As serious, sad and strained as he appears when singing, he has a ready laugh and easy grin when not singing. He tried to lighten things up by telling little stories and jokes, and they were amusing at how often they didn’t work or weren’t appropriate for the situations described. But frequently the awkwardness and inappropriateness turned into catalysts for songs. As his bandmates ribbed him for his eccentricities, I did notice no one else wanted to be the front man doing the segue patter, as much as they gave him crap. In fact, announcing the band’s merchandise turned out to be something that day’s loser of whatever contest had to announce.

Here’s a sampling.

Apparently, the band pares down for tours, since there are more members in these videos than I saw.

And then they were done. I wanted more, more, more. But it was instead time to go home and get some sleep. It was a Sunday, after all, and filled to the brim. Walk, crafts, views, catnip, mocha, live music. And it was now officially over, whether I wanted it to be or not.

Boutique Coffee Prices Continue to Climb

December 27, 2008

I am not a coffee devotee. Like my alcoholic drinks, I prefer that which does not taste of the main ingredient. I am instead, a mocha junkie. Chocolate successfully covers that bitterness that coffee often contains. Here is actually the entire line of reasoning behind my mocha drinking. 

1) It gives me an excuse to get out of the house. Or out of the car when travelling. Or out of the office when frustrated at work.

2) Caffeine gives me that extra push in my morning since I am definitely not a morning person. Or the extra awakeness I need when driving for longer than 8 hours in a day.

3) By saving all my coffee cups, I then send them on to my friend with a 5 acre farm in Oregon, who recycles them and the cups become the containers in which she sells her heirloom tomato seedlings to her customers.  I love being able to give her and her customers colorful cups from all across the nation.

4) Being able to hold a cup of warm liquid in my hands keeps my fingers warm, able to do their daily functions. Sometimes, I think I buy mocha merely to have something warm to hold. 

5) Being able to drink at least a mocha means I CAN accept a coffee date, the new acceptable non-threatening place to meet in a public place option.

6) I like supporting small businesses, and since I am not much of a nick-nack collector for the sake of collecting, a memorable mocha drink is a strong reminder of a particular town or coffeeshop.

7) I can convince myself I am fiscally viable as long as I can still afford to buy a mocha. (Ain’t living in denial grand?)

So those are the reasons I drink mochas, and pretty much exclusively mochas. Then again, bad mochas also burn themselves into my brain, unfortunately. And finding a tasty mocha at a cafe I enjoy the ambiance of is surprisingly hard to find. At least at Starbucks, the expectation and the actual experience are pretty predictable. It is my default when travelling through parts unknown, if I can find one. 

So I was thrilled when I was in Chicago last year for Lollapalooza to find a wonderful cafe with a marvelous mocha. The name of the place was Intelligentsia, and I visited that place every day of the music festival. It was also right near the train line exit I took, near my bank’s atm, and a mere few blocks from the festival entrance location itself in Grant Park. They even had more than one location, but the one I found was fine with me. Here’s a picture of it: 

Intelligentsia Cafe in Chicago









It was done up in a very Dwell/Modern Design in the Current Century style. Simple, bright, many different textures… You get the idea. The mocha was divine. Lots of caffeine. And very smooth chocolate-y, but good chocolate, not mere milk chocolate made in Pennsylvania. The serving sizes were smaller than Starbucks had conditioned me to, but the prices were okay. I was paying for the whole experience, and the experience was fine. 

I came back to LA all thrilled, only to wander into Silverlake a few months later, and found Intelligentsia was now opening a location there. What! My thrill of knowing something local to somewhere geographically specific was deflated! But of course I had to go and visit, see if it was the same. Yes, the coffee was the same, the mocha the same, but the ambiance was entirely different, catering to the trendy, hip, music/artist/cool people of Silverlake. There is always a line. And yet, I pretty much always can find a space at the counter, where the other single people sit. And the regulars. Here is a picture of the LA location of Intelligentsia:

Intelligentsia in Silverlake (from the counter)

Intelligentsia in Silverlake (from the counter)










So they opened, their hours were late and early, they were always busy, they were a hit. Sitting at the counter, you get to see the entire process of making a drink happen, each and every move. Everytime I went in, something had changed. The lights got replaced, sneeze guards were added, this taken out, that added, the hours changed to reflect reality, etc. And their prices went up. Now, my 12 oz mocha is $4.75. It is a real treat when I take myself out there. I savor it, listen to the conversations around me, join in ocassionally. I may even count as a semi-regular. Not a full regular like the guy who lives upstairs and comes down every morning as his daughter gets ready for school. Or my friend who lives across the street and sometimes brings clients over to sip good coffee, lots less pressure in buying real estate. But semi, because sometimes I notice the baristas smile for me, which they didn’t for the seven customers before me, when I ask them how they are doing and actually listen. $4.75 for a mocha is the upper limit of my mocha treat threshold. 

Or so I thought. 

Until I found another place in Silverlake, just across and down the street from Spaceland, a local music club, playing all the up and coming musical talents.

Many coffee places, they include the price of tax in their prices, especially the smaller, single location, family run places. Intelligentsia is one such place.  So although it is $4.75 for a 12 oz mocha, it is not more. Presumably the quarter I get back is an obvious choice to fall into the tip jar before reaching the space to my wallet. (When they opened, the mocha was only $4. Back in Chicago, the same size that year was selling for $3.75. Why do I remember these things?) 

But at LaMill Coffee, a 12 oz mocha is $5. And then with our 8+% tax, it came to $5.41. Because hot prepared food is taxed, while food prepared that is cold (say a salad bar), is not. (Things you learn while shopping at Whole Foods.)

Most expensive Mocha in LA so far

Most expensive Mocha in LA so far

Since I was at the tail end of my morning walk around the Silverlake Reservoir and still had to get back to my car, I thought a sleeve for the cup might be in order, but when I went to the coffee accoutrements bar, there were none to be seen. Perhaps as an environmental statement, there are no sleeves at this location. Because, as any coffee devotee knows, true espresso drinks do not involve the screaming of milk steaming, but a quiet hissing. It’s known as the third wave of coffee here in the United States, the expensive, refined, local coffee establishments and how religuously, faithfully, espresso is prepared. And this leads to lower coffee drink temperatures, so a sleeve really isn’t necessary. 

Somehow, it only left me miffed. Over five dollars and no sleeve? Sure, the cup is biodegradable, I am happy to note (as will the future heirloom tomato seedling planters in Oregon be happy to note too), the furniture and ambiance more of a fine restaurant than a mere cafe, and the coffee was good, the chocolate a variety I had never heard of, etc., but somehow, for that extra 25 cents (plus 41 cents in tax) I was expecting more. Once you cross another dollar threshold, your expectations just go right on up too. 

Then again, I am still trying to track down the nearly $10 cup of espresso I read about in a local newspaper last year, somewhere in the Downtown Arts District, and all because of the incredible imported Italian espresso maker used. Perhaps exotic bottled water was used too, I don’t remember. I have a feeling, I will be even more disappointed on my cost/assessment ratio. And perhaps it is because I am not a coffee devotee and can’t actually taste the unique difference, but just want something I like that tastes good to me. At nearly two dollars less, Starbucks and its predictability still has a place in my shrinking pocketbook.